Ask an Expert - Unhealthy attachment
Q: My dog, Sam, a seven-year-old rescue I adopted one year ago, follows me around everywhere. He even waits outside the bathroom door. Is his attachment to me indicative of some sort of issue? I should mention he doesn’t have separation anxiety—though he’d obviously like to accompany me everywhere. —Shadowed by Sam
A:I have to smile as I think about all the women who would love to be shadowed by a male who doesn’t want to let them out of his sight! And yet there is something to be said for standing on one’s own two feet—er, four paws.
When you say Sam doesn’t have separation anxiety I assume you’re referring to whining, barking, destruction, or other classic signs of stress when you’re gone. Great! But there are subtle forms as well. Let’s imagine for a moment that Sam is not a dog, but a young child. What would you think if that child followed you constantly from room to room, unwilling to be separated from you, even momentarily? Naturally, you’d be concerned.
Many dogs follow their owners from room to room, but if Sam is anxious when you’re home but not in his immediate proximity, that is cause for concern. Chronic low-level stress is unhealthy for Sam, not to mention for you, should you want to take a long bath or a nap without him by your side.
But first things first: If the behaviour has only started recently, Sam should have a full senior veterinary exam, as sudden needy behaviour is often indicative of a physical ailment. Assuming illness has been ruled out, begin to introduce brief periods of “alone time” for Sam that include activities such as excavating a well-stuffed Kong or gnawing on a favourite chew toy. Accompany these chill-out sessions with music such as that on the “Through a Dog’s Ear” CDs, which have been proven to relax nervous dogs. (Alternately, choose slow, soft classical music with minimal instrumentation.)You might also want to have a DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) diffuser in the area. Pair the music and chew toys with your presence first, and continue to pair them with togetherness time periodically, so as not to associate those things only with your absences. (The DAP diffuser, which will also help to relax Sam, should be left plugged in at all times.)
Togetherness is wonderful, but distance makes the heart grow fonder. Short, pleasant separations in the household will be good for you both.